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Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers

Rights and Responsibilities of Students Rights and Responsibilities of Students — Lesson Plan

The Lesson Plan section contains everything you will need to fully understand the featured lesson. It has the following sections:

  • Context presents background information on the teacher, the school, and the course in which the lesson was taught;
  • Lesson-Specific Standards identifies the national standards from the Center for Civic Education and the National Council for the Social Studies that correlate to the featured lesson;
  • Teaching the Lesson provides an activity-by-activity description of how the lesson was organized;
  • Assessment includes both the lesson assessment tools and the rubrics associated with them;
  • Lesson Materials contains any printed information or worksheets distributed to students as part of the lesson; and
  • Resources are additional items and/or articles that may further help you adopt these strategies in your own classroom.


Matt Johnson is chair of the department of social studies and teaches Advanced Placement (AP) U. S. Government, AP Comparative Government, U.S. Government, Law, Economics, D.C. History, and Global Perspectives to students at Benjamin Banneker Senior High School in Washington, D.C. Students in his Law class have won the District of Columbia Mock Trial Championship for seven of the past nine years. In addition to his course load, he has served as senior class sponsor, coordinator of Congressional internships, law club sponsor, stock market club sponsor, and outdoors club sponsor as well as coached varsity softball, boys JV basketball, and varsity cross country. Prior to teaching, Matt Johnson interned at some political think tanks in Washington, D.C., and was a legislative librarian at a law firm. Matt Johnson earned a Bachelor of Science in political science from Ripon College in Wisconsin and a Master’s degree in political science at George Washington University in the District of Columbia.

Benjamin Banneker Senior High School is a small, college preparatory, public high school in Washington, D.C. Nearly 93 percent of its 432 students are African American (1999-2000 data); other students are Pacific Islander (3.2 percent), Hispanic (3.2 percent), or White (0.7 percent). The high school has an attendance rate of 96.4 percent and a promotion rate of 98.1 percent. In 1999, 92 percent of its senior students graduated. SAT rates in that year averaged 522 in mathematics and 553 verbal.

Constitutional Law is a two-semester, grade 12, honors option at Benjamin Banneker Senior High School, and provides an academically challenging environment. The course is co-taught by Matt Johnson and students from the American University Washington College of Law. It aims to encourage all students to become autonomous learners, effective communicators, and active citizens in our society. Students are expected to do independent research on a civil law topic, write a complete analysis of a constitutional issue, and submit a book review on a current law-related book. Students participate in mock trials and a citywide moot court competition. The course has four units: Introduction to Law and Legal Systems, Constitutional Law, Civil Law, and Criminal Law. The course text is We the Students: Supreme Court Cases For and About Students by Jamin B. Raskin, American University Washington College of Law (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2000). The textbook focuses on the constitutional rights of high school students, which are limited in relation to the rights that others have, and analyzes why they are limited.

Lesson-Specific Standards

This lesson addresses the national standards listed below.

From the Center for Civic Education’s National Standards for Civics and Government (1994):

Students should be able to explain:

  • Why the rule of law has a central place in American society.
  • The importance of the right to due process of law for individuals accused of crimes.
  • The meaning and significance of the idea of equal protection of the laws for all persons.

Students should be able to describe historical and contemporary instances in which judicial protections have not been extended to all persons.

Students should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on:

  • The role and importance of law in the American political system.
  • Current issues regarding the judicial protection of individual rights.
  • Issues regarding personal rights.
  • Issues regarding economic rights.
  • Issues regarding the proper scope and limits of rights.
  • The importance to American constitutional democracy of dispositions that foster respect for individual worth and human dignity.
  • The importance to American constitutional democracy of dispositions that facilitate thoughtful and effective participation in public affairs.

From the National Council for the Social Studies Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (1994):

  • Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create and change structures of power, authority, and governance.
  • Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of ideals, principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic.

Teaching the Lesson: Overview, Goals, and Planning

In this lesson, students in Matt Johnson’s 12th-grade, two-semester, honors-level constitutional law course at Benjamin Banneker Senior High School in Washington, D.C., engage in a culminating activity that helps them review what they have learned over the year and gives them an opportunity to apply the concepts to new circumstances. To begin the lesson, each student takes responsibility for writing and distributing a one-page brief of a Supreme Court case that they have previously studied, and for presenting a summary of the case to the class. All cases involve the constitutional rights of students. Next, students are assigned to groups of three and given a hypothetical case. The hypothetical cases, developed by Matt Johnson, relate loosely to student rights cases that were to be decided by the Supreme Court during its 2001-2002 term. Each team represents either the petitioner or the respondent, or is part of the Supreme Court. Students prepare their cases by examining precedents and determining which arguments are most likely to prevail. After a period of preparation, the lawyers present their cases to the Justices, who then retire to deliberate. Justices then present their majority and dissenting opinions, after which the class discusses both the process and the disposition of the case.

This lesson is a culminating activity for the semester and is designed to help students review for a final exam. Students will brief Supreme Court cases that they have studied over the past year, and apply them to a contemporary situation.

The students have prepared for this lesson by reading and discussing relevant cases in their assigned textbook (We the Students: Supreme Court Cases For and About Students by Jamin B. Raskin, American University Washington College of Law. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2000). Many have also participated in a citywide moot court competition and the class as a whole has participated in other mock trials. For this lesson, each student has been given a Supreme Court case to brief and will present to the class the basic facts of the case, including the parties, the issues, and the Court’s decision. They were assisted in this task by the Case Study Activity Sheet and given responsibility for preparing a one-page summary and distributing it to the class. All cases concern the constitutional rights of students.


Activity 1. Students Present Briefs

Have each student distribute a one-page summary of his or her brief to classmates and make a short, oral presentation of the information in the brief. Among the ideas students should present are the following:

  • What happened in the case?
  • Who are the parties in the case?
  • What did they do that caused this to be a legal case?
  • How did the lower court(s) decide the case?

Students should also examine the legal questions in dispute, the arguments for each side, and the effect of the decision on legal precedents. (These questions and others can be found on the Case Study Activity Sheet.) Following each presentation, provide a short time for questions and answers. Matt Johnson did not suggest a time limit for each presentation, although some classes might need this guidance. In retrospect, he wondered whether he should have had all 30 cases presented orally. In the future, he feels it might be adequate to present selected briefs to the class and simply distribute the paper summaries of the others.


Activity 2. Small Groups Prepare for Court

Divide the students into small teams (Matt Johnson used teams of three students), each of which will function as a legal team representing either a plaintiff, a respondent, or members of the Supreme Court. The lawyers’ task is to develop oral arguments in response to a hypothetical case. The Justices should get the same case materials as the lawyers, including the relevant briefs and the hypothetical cases. They will need to develop questions to ask the lawyers.

Distribute the Hypotheticals to students. The hypothetical cases, developed by Matt Johnson, are based loosely on real cases presented in front of the Supreme Court during its 2001-2002 term. Matt Johnson chose them because he felt that they could touch the lives of students, which is key to this activity. In reviewing the lesson after it was completed, Matt Johnson thought that if he repeated the lesson, he might add more facts to the hypotheticals to give the students more material to consider. Teachers using this lesson should bear in mind that the cases on which these hypotheticals were based will probably have already been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Although Matt Johnson uses cooperative learning techniques extensively in his classroom, he always assigns a specific piece of writing, which every student must complete. In this case, that would be either the Lawyer’s Worksheet or the Judge’s Worksheet, depending on a student’s assigned role. Additional handouts that were used by Matt Johnson in this activity are the Appellate Argument Checklist and the Mock Trial Scoring Rubric.

These handouts will help students understand that they not only need to look for cases that will help their side prevail, but anticipate what arguments the opposing side will use and develop strategies that will lessen the impact of arguments that may be mounted against them. It may also be useful to remind students that the 30 cases they have briefed, which are actual cases that have been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, set various precedents for how the Court is likely to consider the hypothetical cases. Finally, suggest to students that all team members take a role in presenting the case in front of the Court. Circulate among the groups as they deliberate, asking questions when appropriate to help them focus and clarify their arguments.

Note also that Matt Johnson chose not to let teams know which other team would be the opposing counsel.

For homework, assign each Justice to develop three questions that they will ask the petitioner and three questions that they will ask the respondent. Lawyers are to develop and type a one-page opening statement.


Activity 3. Final Preparation for Supreme Court Hearing

If an overnight period has intervened, start the second day’s class period by getting the students back into their groups and giving them about 10 minutes to connect with each other and finalize their oral arguments. Since each legal team member will have developed an opening argument, teams will want to review these and either choose one to present or combine them in some way.


Activity 4. Supreme Court Hearing

Each team will present its case in front of the nine students representing the Supreme Court. Provide time for the Justices to ask their questions following the presentation of each side. Matt Johnson planned for about a half-hour for each case to be presented and discussed. (Note that only one case is presented in the video. Additional cases would be presented and discussed in subsequent class periods.)


Activity 5. Supreme Court Deliberations

Once a case has been presented, allow the Justices to go off and deliberate for a few minutes.


Activity 6. Supreme Court Decision and Class Discussion

This activity culminates the lesson for each case. Provide time for a majority and dissenting opinion to be presented and for some discussion with the larger class. Matt Johnson reminded students that the basic situation in the hypothetical case was currently before the Supreme Court and suggested that they watch the newspaper for its resolution.


Scheduling and Adaptations

This lesson was videotaped over two class periods of 85 minutes each. The lesson activities could easily be adapted to a more traditional 40- to 45-minute class period. On day one (and perhaps day two depending on how many oral presentations are scheduled), students can present their briefs of previously studied cases. On the next day (or two), small groups can prepare their cases. On each subsequent day, one case can be tried and deliberated.

Matt Johnson notes that if he was teaching this lesson to ninth-graders, he might limit the number of cases and possibly have everybody work on the same hypothetical. He feels that more data in the hypothetical would also help younger students who might not be able to draw on as much experience as the seniors with which he worked.

In terms of adapting the lesson for students of different ability levels, Matt Johnson points out that his class includes students with a wide range of abilities and that, in his judgment, the lesson offers every student an opportunity to show what he or she knows and to demonstrate a mastery of the material


Matt Johnson assessed students on several levels. The first assessment is of their case brief (see Case Briefing Rubric). The second assessment concerns their work in small groups (see Lawyer’s Worksheet and Judge’s Worksheet). The third assessment uses the Mock Trial Scoring Rubric to judge the students’ performance in the moot court.

Lesson Materials

Below you will find the materials Matt Johnson used for his lesson on the rights and responsibilities of students. You can download these documents and print them out for your own use.


Below you will find additional resources pertaining to this lesson.

List of Recommended Internet Sites About the U.S. Supreme Court
This listing describes and evaluates 14 Internet sites dealing with Supreme Court cases. It evaluates those that might be used by students, describing their strengths and weaknesses, and includes a number of sites that teachers might reference for lesson plan ideas.

Cornell University Law School provides a Legal Information Institute (LII) that houses a collection of over 600 of the Supreme Court’s most important historical decisions on CD-ROM and over the Internet. The decisions are organized by party name, by topic, and by opinion. The site also includes links to other research sites on the Internet.
Users will find that this site is a comprehensive research source on the United States Supreme Court. The LII offers a collection of materials on Supreme Court decisions and information related to the Court. Users can subscribe to a service that delivers a synopsis of the Court’s decisions via e-mail each day.

The Washington Post Web site features key stories related to the Supreme Court. The site also provides a review of the key cases for the Supreme Court’s current term. Additionally, the Web site provides access to the docket for the current term of the Supreme Court including oral argument dates, key cases from previous terms, and a history quiz. Clicking on “Links & Resources” allows users to access other links pertaining to the Supreme Court.
This is a very thorough site on the Supreme Court. By clicking on the “docket,” students see a variety of ways in which they may approach a Supreme Court case. The benefit of this site is that once students find a Supreme Court case and read the decisions, they can further their interest by searching for the case in the news article index for more information and coverage.

U.S. Supreme Court Plus contains Supreme Court decisions listed chronologically, reverse chronologically, and alphabetically. The Supreme Court decisions can be downloaded using Adobe Acrobat Reader. The site provides an argument calendar as well as a session calendar. The home page provides access to a host of free services including decisions from the current term, a list of the most cited Supreme Court cases, free queries and access to case syllabi, biographies of the Justices, and a history of the Supreme Court.
This site is a good research tool for students. The digest of recent decisions and database are easy to navigate and understand. Not only does the site give students access to the cases before the Supreme Court, it also provides students with a historical overview of the Court’s procedures and traditions.

The Oyez Project at Northwestern University is a Supreme Court multimedia database. The “Greatest Hits” links provide digital and audio files on the oral arguments of some of the most controversial cases decided by the Supreme Court since 1955, as well as several recordings of the announcement of the Court’s opinions. The Web site also links to the written opinions of the Court in all cases since 1891, provided by the Findlaw project. In addition, the “cases” link allows users to access a current listing of cases on the docket this term, biographies and portraits of all 108 Justices, and current and breaking news concerning the Supreme Court.
This site provides in-depth coverage of the Supreme Court, both present and past. There is a good balance of research materials, cases, current news articles, feature stories, and historical overview. The site is very easy to navigate and all of the links take the user within the Web page, instead of having to search the Internet.

The Jurist: The Legal Education Network, launched at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, provides an online guide to the United States Supreme Court. Users can click onto the following categories to search for specific information on the Supreme Court: current calendar and schedule of oral arguments, cases from the current term, briefs, latest decisions from the Court, and past opinions from 1992-1999. The site also includes detailed information on the structure and history of the United States’ highest court and biographies of each of the Justices since 1911. The search toolbar on the top of the page allows users to access the latest news concerning the Supreme Court.
This site is a comprehensive research tool for students. The categories serve as a useful guide to navigate the information available on the page. Students can follow links directly to sites on the Internet from this page without having to perform any further searches or input information into a search box.

The official Web site for the United States Supreme Court allows access to a variety of information on the Court using Adobe Acrobat Reader. The home page provides links within the site, including a calendar and schedule for the current term, cases currently on the docket (coming soon), and additional information about the Supreme Court and the Judiciary from related Web sites. The site also includes an overview of the Supreme Court where users can research topics ranging from the Court’s procedures to biographies on the individual Justices.
This site provides a good overview of the Supreme Court and its functions. The layout of the information is a bit technical and confusing to work with at times, but it is thorough and easy to navigate. The links are labeled with descriptive headings and are directly within the site.

This Web site is provided by the Supreme Court Historical Society. The site has 411 of the most significant oral arguments heard by the Supreme Court available online. In addition, it gives access to oral arguments provided by C-SPAN and biographies of the current Justices.
This site is a useful historical guide to the Supreme Court. Users will be able to access information on landmark cases, as well as pull information on the individual Justices and media coverage of the oral arguments.

Other Sites

The Web site is primarily a list of links to other Internet legal resources. Cases, codes, law review articles, news, and Supreme Court opinions are easily accessible through this site.
This site requires more researching skills, including navigating and inputting information into the search boxes. It is not a point-and-click Web site. This site is used more for in-depth legal research once students have a good handle on where they are going with the case.

USA Today provides up-to-the-minute reports on current issues before the U.S. Supreme Court. Click on “Site Map” under the “Resources” heading of the home page. Then choose “Supreme Court: Latest News, Resources, and Archived Information.” This section provides a listing of news-related articles covering Supreme Court cases, as well as information on the Justices.
This site is very easy to navigate because it takes you to direct links within the Web site. It does not link you to other sites on the Internet. The news articles are easy to read and a good starting point for students to research specific cases before they read the Court opinion.

MSNBC is the Web site for the television network of the same name. To find more information on the Supreme Court and topics related to their decisions, type “Supreme Court” in the search tool box to pull up the articles from the MSNBC database.
This site is a bit confusing because the search tool locates articles that are used on the television news program. The text from the broadcast does not include the images a viewer would normally see on television. The articles are short and not as detailed as a news article from a print agency. Also, the articles are compiled from affiliate stations across the country.

Washburn University School of Law provides links to the online opinions of all Court of Appeals, Supreme Court, state court decisions, and a variety of other legal materials. Click onto “Federal Case Law” for “Supreme Court Briefs” and “Supreme Court Decisions,” or type the case name into the Supreme Court search index.
This site is confusing and requires a lot more navigating than the other sites. Once you have the case, you must perform a search, which gives you results outside of the Web site.

Freedom Forum provides news articles, case summaries, and updates on hot button constitutional cases (both Federal and state level) related to free speech, free press, religion, and technology issues. Students can access the First Amendment Center’s Supreme Court Files by clicking on “First Amendment” from the home page and then “The First Ammendment Library.” This page includes summaries and full-text opinions of all First Amendment decisions by the Supreme Court since 1990, a brief history of the Supreme Court and its current Justices, and related sites over the Internet. For the current term, it includes summaries of First Amendment cases on appeal and lower court opinions.
This site is informative and easy to navigate. The summaries frame out the issue of the case immediately and are written so that they are very understandable. This is a good site for students to use before they start reading the actual text of the opinions because it gives a clear introduction.

This site is sponsored by the National Constitution Center, an organization dedicated to helping teachers incorporate the teachings of the Constitution and other civics-related topics into their classrooms. The site gives teachers (elementary, middle, and high school) access to lesson plans from other teachers on a range of constitutional issues including freedom of expression, freedom of religion, right to privacy, and civil rights.
The downside to this site is that although it may provide lesson plans, there are no resources posted that are used in conjunction with the activities. Teachers would best benefit from this site if they were to use another site that provided summaries of the cases used in the lesson plans.

Learning Network, in conjunction with the New York Times, provides teachers with a list of comprehensive lesson plans using New York Times articles to explore current topics in the news–gun violence, censorship, and freedom of the press and religion. The topics are arranged chronologically with the most recent appearing first. The lesson plans include warm-up activities, resources and materials, wrap-up exercises, vocabulary-building exercises, and extension activities.
The lesson plans on this site provide useful learning exercises. They provide basic activities that can be used in the classroom and extended activities that can be incorporated, depending on the depth and interest of the students.

(Several of these sites can be accessed directly from the Web site that accompanies the 6th edition of the Street Law textbook. Go to and click on supersites.)

Source: © Street Law, Inc., 2000. Revised MN Center for Community Legal Education, August 2000.

Relevant Supreme Court Cases
Engel v. Citale
Bethel v. Fraser
Doe v. Renfro
Everson v. Board
Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier
Karr v. Schmidt
Katz v. United States
Kyllo v. United States
Lee v. Weisman
Lemon v. Kurtzman
McCollum v. Board
Melton v. Young
Santa Fe Independent School District V. Doe
Scoville v. Board
Stone v. Grapham
Texas v. Johnson
Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District
TLO v. New Jersey
U.S. v. O’Brien
Vernonia v. Acton
Wisconsin v. Yoder
WV v. Barnette
Zorach v. Clauson


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